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Sentence Soup

May 5, 2010

Chef competitions often revolve around the idea of a mystery basket. The competing chefs are given a “basket” of foods that don’t appear to go together and it’s their job to make something out of that. I for one compete in this way all the time when I open my refrigerator and check the pantry! How can I make dinner out of this disorganized jumble of foodstuffs?!

Lately, I’ve had a few sentences kicking around in my head and I thought maybe I’d try the same exercise with them. How can I pull these together to make meaning?

“I visited a couple farms last week.”

“Do you know where your food comes from?”

“A lot of the food system is not about food.”

“Why is there food that’s not good for you?”

“I have some rhubarb for you – first pick of the season; super juicy.”

So here goes.

I have changed a lot in the last year. The small farm, local food movement plays right into my cooking philosophy: quality ingredients in, quality food out. My search for quality, whole, ingredients led me to the farmer’s markets and there’s been no turning back. This time last year, I could have said, “I don’t remember when I was last on a farm.” Now, instead, this sentence rolls off the tongue quite easily: “I visited a couple farms last week.” And as my friend Ellen replied, “Of course you did.”

The sea change in my life is that visiting farms is a regular thing and most importantly, it is taken for granted by me and by the farmers. Our food system is moving from a confusing factory to small farms who want to have visitors. If you have even the slightest interest in visiting a farm, DO IT IMMEDIATELY! Take your kids. If you don’t have kids, take your nieces and nephews, take your grandkids. Take someone who needs to learn where their food comes from.

Farmer Rink DaVee knows I’m on this path of food discovery. He turned to me last week and asked the ingenuous-sounding question, “Do you know where your food comes from?”


…white space for you to think about that question yourself…


I answered no.

I decided “knowing your food” is a continuum of exploration. I do know about a lot of the food I eat. I know my greens right now come out of my very own shared garden (read about the March 3 Garden Project on this blog). I know my maple syrup comes from an Amish farmer named Jakob, near Viroqua, Wisconsin. I personally know the chickens who lay many of the eggs I eat and I take them my food scraps and compost to feed on, which is a really cool food circle. And I know many of the farmers who I buy from at the market by name. I know roughly how they farm, even if I haven’t visited their farms yet. And thanks to my blog series Know Your Milk, Know Your Dairy, I know a lot about milk.

spring greens from the March 3 Garden

But of course, there’s much I don’t know. I know I trust my pork producers because they sell me pasture-raised pork shoulder that I roast for hours and absolutely love. But I don’t know what’s involved raising a hog and slaughtering it. I get very excited about asparagus, but I haven’t actually seen it coming out of the ground. There’s a lot to learn and that’s really fun. Each of us needs to decide for ourselves how deeply we delve, how much we want to know. Personally, I don’t see the bottom yet, so I’m happy to keep visiting farms and asking questions!

Speaking of asparagus, the winter was hard on me. I desperately wanted more greens. I didn’t want grocery store greens. I wanted locally grown greens. They were hard to find and now that I have a share in a backyard garden, I hope to work out hoop houses to get us through next winter in style. I guess one nice thing though about the winter is that spring follows and you get asparagus, ramps, morels…and rhubarb! My backyard gardener friend Laura sent me a message that read: “I have some rhubarb for you – first pick of the season; super juicy.”

I swooned. I made rhubarb cake. Yum!

I know where that food came from!

So I’m curious what you know about the food you eat? Where are you on the spectrum between knowing very little and knowing everything there is to know? And where would you like to be? It’s worth asking yourself.

Last fall I became aware of a film called “What’s On Your Plate?” I watched the trailer on the filmmaker’s website and was excited that it reaches out to young kids. It follows two eleven-year old girls around New York City as they explore their food. They learn about highly processed foods. They learn about farming and CSAs. They learn about how food choices affect health. They learn about cooking and enjoying food together with friends. I turned to Melissa Graham of Purple Asparagus and found a willing partner and together we’ve brought the film to Chicago for screenings.

In the film, farmer Ball raises carrots in New York and sees a disconnect between the fact that there is a huge market for carrots in the New York public schools and yet the system buys from out of state. As he puts it, “A lot of the food system is not about food.” Of course, when you see a genuine farmer on the screen saying something like that, you just want to hug him for the wonderful work he does growing healthful, local food and you want to wrestle the next bureaucrat you find to the floor and scream at them, “Why are you doing this?” Not that I’m a violent person. Just a figure of speech. But I do get worked up, I’ll admit.

The good news is that there is ever more legislation passing that will support local food production and the idea of getting that produce into our schools. If you’re inclined to get involved, follow my posts on Twitter and Facebook – I frequently mention ways individuals can help to make change.

So, did my market basket of sentences yield a full meal, or just soup?

ramp soup, Crofton On Wells

Let me end with one more sentence, from one of the eleven-year old narrators of “What’s On Your Plate?” It’s one we all should mull over:

“Why is there food that’s not good for you?”

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